In May 2015, with estimates for demand of new heavy-lift helicopters in China exceeding 200 aircraft by 2040, Russian Helicopters agreed to work with the Aviation Industry Corp. of China (AVIC) to create an advanced heavy lifter.
The heavy helicopter is planned to have a takeoff weight of 38 tons, with ability to carry 10 tons of cargo inside the cabin (or 15 on an external sling). It would be designed to operate in hot climates, mountainous terrain and all-weather conditions, and to be able to fly missions such as transport, medevac and firefighting. The final pact is expected at the year’s end.
China had been building and investing in helicopters globally since at least 1976. Early on, it signed a contract with Aerospatiale (now Airbus Helicopters) to allow car manufacturer Jiangxi Changhe Automobile Co. Ltd. to produce the SA321 Super Frélon. Owing to technical difficulties and lack of experience, the first Z-8 Frélon did not fly until 1985, and it was another four years before it was granted a type certificate. But that was a start.
Since then, AVIC has worked with Sikorsky, Schweizer, Airbus and Russian Helicopters to produce both Western and Eastern versions of rotorcraft, including the AC312E (a variant of the Harbin Z-2 based on the AS365), which first flew in August.
Some Chinese helicopters were more of a surprise to Western manufacturers than others. For example, when a clone of Sikorsky’s Sea Hawk, called the Z-20, was spotted for the first time in December 2013, it caught the U.S. manufacturer off guard. Sikorsky did not know China was producing the variant. (The Z-20 is a S-70 with a slightly modified fuselage and a five-blade main rotor.) This has been true for Airbus as well, with the AC311 civil model, a crossbreed of the EC120 and AS350.
Now China has begun works of its own. With state support, it developed the AC322 (previously known as AC3X2), a 3-ton class helicopter inspired by the Bell Helicopter 429. AVIC said the AC322 will have a speed of 270 kph, a range of 200 km, 4.2 hr of endurance and a 5,000-m service ceiling. First flight is expected in 2018. R&WI